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08 Mar 2019 00:00
Empty stands: Bloemfontein Celtic fans, once fiercely loyal to their side, a big factor in their team’s success, are starting to lose hope and drift away. (Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images)
The ongoing administrative woes at Bloemfontein Celtic now threaten the team’s biggest strength — its loyal supporters. With poor play on the pitch and little noise from the stands, the team is struggling to earn points.
In one of the poorest turnouts to date, Celtic played the much-loved Free State derby against Free State Stars in front of just 2 500 fans.
Celtic usually have the upper hand in the derby, thanks in no small part to the chanting of their fans.
The Free State contest is the second-biggest in the country after the Soweto derby and, when played at the Dr Petrus Molemela stadium, which is Celtic’s home base, it usually attracts a crowd of at least 17 000 — the full capacity of the stadium.
But the attendance at the February 24 game was a shadow of its former self.
“We decided to abandon that game. We were invited to a meeting a month ago and it never happened, and we are now hoping to meet the potential buyer sometime,” said Celtic Supporters Club chairman Mabena Pule.
The supporters’ mission to desert the team began on January 13, when the team played in front of just 500 fans during their 1-1 draw against Golden Arrows at the same venue.
The team arguably had the most loyal supporters in the league, and their fans were known to stick with the team even in the stickiest of situations.
When Celtic was relegated to the National First Division back in 2003, the supporters continued to cram the stadiums at both home and away matches.
This lifted the team’s spirit all the way back into the big leagues and, in their first season back in the PSL, they won the SAA Supa8 trophy under coach Paul Dolezar.
The PSL discontinued the Best Supporters award years ago, after it became apparent that no other club’s supporters were willing to contest it — Celtic fans had won it for three consecutive years.
The ongoing poor turnouts by the club’s award-winning “12th player” are due to the uncertainty over the sale of the cash-strapped club.
The pending sale has resulted in administrative challenges, such as players’ salaries being paid late. In December they also lost the services of coach Steve Komphela.
In his scathing resignation letter, Komphela cited, among other things, what he termed the “terrible preseason training” for which they had no training kit. He also hinted that the club was being run unprofessionally.
“Our training grounds are in the worst condition ever for a professional club. They are untidy and need maintenance (fields, toilets, offices, walls cracking, floors untidy, the yard, parking areas and premises extremely untidy),” reads the letter.
He also mentioned the dilemma of having to convince the players to refrain from boycotting certain games in protest over monies due to them.
In August, Celtic players waited until the last minute before deciding to play a home fixture against Maritzburg United, which they eventually lost 1-0.
The current abandoning of games by fans has also begun to affect the team’s performance.
They may have put up a gutsy display in the away game against Pirates at the Orlando Stadium on Tuesday, but the result sunk them lower on the table, with just 31 points.
At some point in the current season, Celtic occupied the impressive third spot on the table, but they are languishing in eighth spot following the derby loss and back-to-back draws against Mamelodi Sundowns (0-0) and Orlando Pirates (1-1).
Celtic chief executive Khumbulani Konco refused to comment when quizzed about the supporters’ decision to abandon the team and how far advanced the club’s pending sale is.
If things continue this way, there might be little of value left in the sale.
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